You are at the shopping centre looking for breakfast cereal. The cereal should taste amazing on its own right? But then on the box it tells you that adding sugar or fruit to the cereal will make it taste that much sweeter. That is what micro-transactions feel like when it comes to video games. Instead of just going out to restock breakfast cereal, you have to purchase all of these extra commodities to help you eat it. Years ago, video games came with all the content for the set price. You didn’t have to purchase more story content or visual aesthetic packages. You don’t see that now.
Even the most completed games come with micro-transactions. An example of this is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a game filled with content and constant developer updates making the game run better for the players. This doesn’t stop the developers Valve from including weapon cases every month or so. These weapon cases add weapon skins, or different colour packages to your weapons, for a price. This is the less harmful version of micro-transactions according to veteran video game player, Daniel Baker.
“I’m guilty of micro-transactions in games that I play including Counter-Strike and Heroes of Newerth. I personally don’t have a problem with them. I know their sole purpose is to make money and all, but I’m truly not bothered so long as they don’t rake the prices up too high and make the games ‘pay to win’,” he said.
Unfortunately, aesthetic changes bring gameplay changes. An example of this is Call of Duty‘s loot box system, where players can earn extremely strong weapons for a price. These weapons blow all the others out of the water and it is completely unfair for players who try their hardest to win using the weapons they have without paying a ridiculously high price for them. Currently, to earn some of these weapons, players have had to spend up to $50, if not more, to earn one of these over-powered weapons. In my personal experience, I spent over $200 and managed to earn over 10 of these powerful weapons. I get insulted constantly for using them in-game and, yes, I feel dirty for using them.
While some may feel that micro-transactions are a necessary evil, others are against their implementation in video games. Ryan Betson, editor in chief and co-founder of personality-based pop culture and entertainment media outlet The PopCulturists, told Dscribe: “Micro-transactions are the blood of free-to-play mobile games into the main gaming culture. With the steadily increasing cost of game development and the retail price becoming somewhat fixed, there needed to be a way to bring additional income in. After seeing the obscene amounts of cash pouring in from mobile games with what appeared to be minimal effort, it makes perfect sense for publishers to want in. They are a business. Businesses are designed to make money. It was a logical deduction.”
“In the initial stages it was somewhat consumer friendly. Want new pants for your character? Pay 99 cents. There you go. But now it’s become predatory. Publishers are beginning to nickel and dime their consumer base. Intentionally locking out features and items behind a paywall all for the sake of a dollar. It’s known that all of the free-to-game cash came from less than 5 per cent of players – the grossly named ‘Whales’. The publishers know this and blatantly abuse it. By tapping into addictive weaknesses of a select subset of their customers they are genuinely exploiting people. What started as a relatively innocent practice has become a literal disease and blight to gaming culture.”
Before the concept of micro-transactions’ inception, smaller game companies likely struggled to keep up against the bigger companies. However, since micro-transactions have become such a staple in current video games, it has given smaller companies the chance to survive. While this is a good thing – smaller companies have a chance to take on the bigger companies and last longer – it’s unfortunate that they have to use micro-transactions to survive instead of utilising their impressive game.
Indie game developer Hyrum “HW” White isn’t going down the route of micro-transactions.
“This is my first real game project, and the key thing I want to get out of the way now is that I don’t want Micro-transactions in my game, in fact I’m planning on advertising the lack of micro-transactions in my game as a feature. I’m working on it in my free time, so any money I make from it is sweet, but I do not want to force players into paying for unnecessary add-ons,” he said.
“I can understand why big developers, who spend millions want to use micro-transactions to turn their game into a passive profit machine. I just don’t think they should ever benefit competitive gameplay, and it shouldn’t be in your face.”